September 2, 2017
Today, we took the scenic route to Wellington aboard the Northern Express for a ten-hour train ride. We traveled through tunnels, in the shadow of a mountain, and beside small industrial towns; all the while, we ate, listened to music, talked, and most importantly, slept. The lengthy trip was used for rest, bonding, and reflection as we looked onto Aotearoa’s beautiful countryside.
A reoccurring feature of this landscape was the green grass used as pastures for grazing cows and sheep. Animal agriculture was so prominent throughout the ride that I was able to comprehend how vastly outnumbered humans are by sheep: 29.5 million to 4.6 million. It began to strike me as odd, how have these non-indigenous animals become such a staple in the country’s geography? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is quite layered involving both the Treaty of Waitangi and Western ideology.
Throughout this trip, we have learned the effects of having two separate founding national documents; the Māori’s version of the Treaty is a completely separate piece of work when compared to the British version, ultimately causing disparities which left the nation, specifically the Māori peoples, with intergenerational traumas. As the country grew off of the British version of the Treaty, the Pākehā’s (non-Māori) needs and values were cemented into the nation’s identity. The Māori peoples became marginalized as the partnership outlined in their version of the Treaty was not upheld. Due to this structure, the Crown was able to “buy” Aotearoa’s lands and level them in order to make space for agrarian traditions and the Pākehā.
The polarity between the grazing fields and natural, thick forests is stark and highlights the settler colonialism—immigrating to embody the space and spatial interaction of a location while imposing a foreign culture—etched into the environment. However, since Aotearoa and its entities were not empty, the Māori were left without the rights detailed in their Treaty. I was reminded of the Māori’s fight for sovereignty as I looked out onto lands that were mostly taken with unjust methods such as confiscation or purchasing land for less than it’s worth.
However, despite the seemingly negative situation, the Māori people have continued to adapt to their circumstances in order to persevere and thrive. For example, Māori peoples have adopted animal agriculture to take part in this lucrative business. This idea of adaption was discussed while in Auckland at the Tikanga Rangahau Wananga conference we attended. We were able to hear from Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith, a Māori scholar. She gave us a unique experience by giving her lecture through stories. This technique is quite reflective of the culture because “Skills such as weaving and carving, along with a rich tradition of song, dance, whakapapa, tribal histories and creation stories, were passed on through the generations” (6487). In doing so, she personified her culture’s practices as she spoke of resistance and remaining firm in their identity. One story in particular stuck out in a poem-like tale called “You Can’t Erase Me” that retold a conversation between herself and another scholar. The exchange ended as her colleague stated, “You are here because of race, I’m here because of merit.” Her response silenced the audience and reaffirmed the intensity of Māori determination and unwillingness to be disregarded by settler colonialism: “No, you’re here because of race, I’m here because you can’t erase me.”